Getting Personal--Building Strong Fundraising Relationships

Mid-December I did a webinar for DonorPerfect on Fundraising for the One Person Office  It was a very shortened version of a workshop I often teach and one, judging from the numbers of people who take it, is an issue of great interest in the nonprofit sector. Most of the questions that were posted during the webinar had to do with boards, and I wrote about that two blog posts ago (  But there also questions on how to move from transaction fundraising (sending donors materials and hoping they will respond) to more relational fundraising.  And since I believe that successful fundraising is based on relationships, I think this is critical not just for growth but for sustainability.

It’s a daunting endeavor.  For many people this means moving away from your computer to the big outside world, and from simply not getting a response to actually hearing variations on the word no.  Rejection is not a fun thing—but it is also not the end of the world.

For those of you who are standing on the edge, waiting for the perfect time or sure way to start building relationships with your donors, I gotta tell you—the only way to do that is to do it.

First, I would begin by running a report off your database (if you have one) or pulling the information from the excel sheets you track donors on or your accounting software, that will tell you your larger, most loyal donors.  So, for example, who has given gifts of at least $500 a year for at least the last three years.  Pick whatever number work for you.

Those donors become your “A” list.  Find out who on your board knows who on that list and engage them to partner with you and open the door.  If no one knows them, then you have to try to open the door yourself.  In either case, you want to ask them for a meeting so you can learn more about them.

At the meetings you do get, start out by asking how they came to your organization.  What was the impetus to make that first gift? What keeps them giving?  What do they love about your organization? What don’t they love as much?

Share with them some larger initiatives, or what a larger gift could do.  One nice way to cultivate is to ask your board members if they would host an intimate gathering for a few of these people—and some of their friends.

As you work through your list, keep adding—more loyal donors, new donors, donors who have made a large gift in the past.  And pay attention to people who change their giving upward.  If Joe has been giving $50 a year and now suddenly gives $200, he is worth a call.

As you are moving toward a more relationship based fundraising program, don’t drop your transactional one.  It is important, though I will tell you that all studies as well as my own experience say that a personalized letter is far more effective than the most beautiful brochure.  Remember—the closer you get to your prospect, the more likely it is that that prospect will turn into a donor.  A letter that says Dear with the person’s name is far more intimate than a sales brochure that simply talks about your program.  Making the letter even more personal—thanking those who have given for their past gifts, or asking those who haven’t to become part of your family—will increase your effectiveness rate.

As you start on your New Year’s fundraising efforts make one resolution—that this is the year you will get more personal and build more of those relationships that sustain and grow our organizations.

Janet Levine works with nonprofits and educational organizations, helping them to increase their fundraising capacity and build more engaged boards.  Learn how Janet can help you and your organization at or email her directly at